Andy, would you please post the following to SANET-mg?
I'm locked out of my UW e-mail account at present thanks to network and
software problems. I'm also on vacation this month of June, so am off
SANET in that time. But thought this analysis of the UFW's defeat in the
Watsonville vote last week might interest some of you, so am fwd'ing
this from home via Andy. Sorry for the formatting, but my home e-mail
package (Mozilla) won't let me easily get rid of the space at the left.
Don't know whether I ever mentioned this, but my first independent
activism, at about age 15, was circulating petitions for the UFW. I was
living (if you can call it that) in a factory, shipbuilding, and
refinery town downriver from Philly. La Causa meshed precisely with the
issues my family dealt with as Poorly Compensated Chattels of Sun Oil
Co. :^) Eh, stories for another time, when harp music and Guinness are
> Why Strawberry Fields Have Been
> Barren for UFW
> Many factors in union's loss last
> week in Watsonville vote
> Maria Alicia Gaura, Chronicle Staff Writer
> Monday, June 7, 1999
> If any workers could benefit from unionization, it
> would be those who toil in California's strawberry
> fields -- at least that was what organizers for the
> United Farm Workers of America thought.
> Berry workers are among the lowest paid in the
> agricultural industry, and the stooping required to
> tend the ground-hugging plants can lead to crippling
> back injuries. Strawberry fields also are doused
> with more pesticides per acre than any other
> outdoor crop, increasing worker exposure to toxic
> But despite years of effort and millions in costs, the
> campaign to organize the state's $783 million
> strawberry industry has reaped a scanty harvest for
> the union founded by Cesar Chavez. The UFW has
> won a contract with only one berry grower so far --
> a small organic farm in Santa Cruz County that
> employs only about 40 workers at peak season.
> UFW officials insist that workers have been
> frightened away from unionization by threats and
> intimidation from industry leaders. But Friday night's
> election defeat at Coastal Berry Co. of Watsonville
> -- a company that openly encouraged its 2,000
> workers to embrace the union -- has left most
> observers seeking other explanations.
> `` `Why not the UFW?' That is the question
> everyone is asking,'' said Watsonville Mayor Oscar
> Rios. ``Given the conditions in the fields, why are
> workers not running to join?''
> Just as puzzling -- why are today's strawberry
> fieldworkers apparently less willing to unionize than
> the workers who defied violence to join Chavez in
> the 1970s?
> ``The farm labor force today is very different than it
> was 30 years ago,'' said Don Villarejo, executive
> director of the California Institute of Rural Studies.
> ``In 1970, half of all California farmworkers were
> born in the U.S. But today 95 percent are
> foreign-born, and 42 percent admitted (to
> government interviewers) to being here without
> Today's farmworkers also are less assimilated into
> U.S. culture than they were in the past and not
> easily persuaded that social institutions like unions
> can replace the safety net offered by extended
> family ties.
> In addition, many are young.
> ``A lot of these kids are 17 or 18, and when you
> mention Cesar Chavez, they think you're talking
> about Julio Cesar Chavez, the boxer,'' Villarejo
> The UFW targeted Coastal Berry for the first thrust
> of its organizing campaign because the company is
> the largest berry grower in the country, and because
> owner David Gladstone, who bought the company
> from Monsanto in 1997, is an investor of union
> pension funds who welcomed the UFW's overtures.
> In addition to signing a neutrality agreement with the
> UFW, Gladstone penned an open letter to company
> workers, urging them to consider the benefits of
> bringing in a union.
> Yet the relatively generous pay and benefits offered
> by Gladstone may have worked against the union,
> because the UFW had little extra to offer the
> workers in exchange for their dues.
> Industry leaders, many openly jubilant at the UFW's
> travail, claim workers rejected the union because
> they are well-paid, well-treated and proud of their
> ``The workers who came to me said they felt the
> UFW was thrust upon them by the company,'' said
> James Gumberg, an attorney representing the
> in-house union that came out of nowhere to defeat
> the UFW twice at Coastal Berry. ``They said they
> were reasonably content with what they had, and
> they didn't want to upset the apple cart.''
> But to Villarejo, pocketbook issues are only part of
> the hurdle the UFW failed to clear at Coastal Berry.
> Though he supports unions, Villarejo gives little
> credence to UFW claims that workers are too
> frightened to organize.
> Instead, he argues that workers have developed
> strong networks of loyalty to their foremen and
> managers that the union has been unable to
> penetrate. At any given company in the Pajaro
> Valley, most workers come from the same region or
> village, and many are related.
> Under the existing system, workers come from their
> homes in Mexico to a particular farm because they
> know other people there. The foreman may be a
> friend, an uncle, a brother-in-law, a cousin -- part
> of a network of extended family.
> ``These are relationships based on the passing of
> favors back and forth, and there is a lot of loyalty to
> management,'' Villarejo said. ``The question (the
> union needs to pose) is whether it is better in the
> long term to have a system of democratic
> representation and a secret ballot or the system
> currently in place.
> ``I've always said that this (union drive) would be a
> five-year effort,'' Villarejo said. ``The UFW has
> made progress, but the workers are very divided.''
> Manuel Pastor, professor of Latin American and
> Latino studies at the University of California at
> Santa Cruz, agrees that kinship and loyalty are
> major obstacles to the UFW.
> ``Unions are more successful where there are fewer
> social ties between management and workers,''
> Pastor said. ``If the managers and foremen were
> white (as was usual 30 years ago), that might have
> made a difference.''
> UFW officials insist that their defeat at Coastal
> Berry was due to a grower conspiracy and vow to
> continue organizing until they prevail.
> ``All those arguments (about workers voluntarily
> rejecting the union) are just standard anti-union
> propaganda,'' said Marc Grossman, a UFW
> spokesman. ``They don't explain why we've won
> 18 secret ballots since 1994.''
> According to Grossman, UFW membership has
> risen from 20,000 to 27,000 since the group began
> actively organizing after Chavez's death in 1993.
> That is a fraction of the 80,000 members the UFW
> claimed in its heyday, but it proves that workers are
> embracing the union, he said.
> ``They say we can't beat this one grower (Coastal
> Berry), even with both hands tied behind their
> back,'' Grossman said. ``But they're being
> disingenuous. They've written our obituary half a
> dozen times before, but they've been wrong. We're
> not going away.''
> ©1999 San Francisco Chronicle Page A1
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